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Still Life with Tablecloth

Kessel Jan van

Antwerp 1626 - 1679)

This Still Life with Tablecloth has been ascribed to Jan van Kessel the Elder, given its stylistic similarities with other two still lifes which Federico Zeri attributed to the artist from Antwerp, which likewise form part of the Borghese Collection. The provenance of both this painting and the two other small works on copper is still unknown. The subject as well as the work’s descriptive style are fully in line with Van Kessel’s production.

Object details

half of the 17th century
oil on copper
cm 12 x 22

late 18th-/early 19th-century frame, part of a polyptych, 15.5 x 110 x 2 cm


Borghese collection, cited in Inv. 1693, room XI, nos 56-59 (?); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 28, no. 56. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1952 Augusto Vermehren


The Galleria Borghese holds three small works on copper by Jan Van Kessel the Elder, the painter from Antwerp: the Still Life with Tablecloth – the focus of this profile – the Still Life with Melon (inv. no. 383) and the Still Life with Fishes (inv. no. 385). The two last-named works were ascribed to Van Kessel on the basis of an oral opinion expressed by Federico Zeri, who connected them to several other works known to be by the same artist in the Pallavicini collection. Paola Della Pergola (1959, p. 167) accepted this thesis, noting similarities in style and taste between that pair of works and the present Still Life with Tablecloth, such that she confidently ascribed this painting to Van Kessel the Elder as well.

Of unknown provenance, the work is difficult to identify in the Borghese inventories. It may correspond to one of the ‘four small paintings on copper, roughly half a span high, of different fruits and other foods, with black frames, all four listed as no. 300, by Monsù Brugo Novecchio [Monsieur Brueghel the Younger]’ described in the 1693 inventory (Della Pergola 1959; Herrmann Fiore 2006, p. 170, Minozzi 2016, pp. 119-120). Yet the only certain reference is the entry in the 1833 Inventario fidecommissario, given the correspondence of the description to what appears in painting at the back of the table: ‘Small work by Brugholo [Brueghel], antique metal objects for decoration, 1 span wide, 6 inches high’. While the name of Jan Breughel the Elder was accepted by Gianni Piancastelli (1891, p. 391), Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 223) and Roberto Longhi (1928, p. 225) more cautiously ascribed the painting to a Flemish master. As we have seen, it was Zeri who first proposed the name of Van Kessel, receiving the support of Della Pergola; critics since have not called this attribution into question.

The work shows a table laden with fruits and other foods, a typical subject of Van Kassel’s production. Three dishes contain different types of fruit; another plate contains a loaf of bread covered by a white cloth; a raised fifth dish supports a white cup decorated with a light blue motif. On the left, we further see a spoon, two cruets and a wine glass. On the right side, meanwhile, a copper vessel occupies the middle ground, while a knife lies next to the loaf of bread, with its handle leaning over the edge of the table: this motif, found also in the above-mentioned Still Life with Melon, was used by the artist to create an impression of spatial depth. The descriptive style and taste for detail are among the distinctive characteristics of Van Kessel, an artist who specialised in representations of animal and plant elements executed with conspicuous scientific interest (on the artist, see N. Baadj, Jan van Kessel I (1626-1679): Crafting a Natural History of Art in Early Modern Antwerp, London 2016).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 391;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 223;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 225;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 167, n. 242;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 170;
  • M. Minozzi, La natura morta nel sequestro Borghese e negli inventari della Galleria, in L’origine della natura morta in Italia. Caravaggio e il Maestro di Hartford, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2016-2017), a cura di A. Coliva, D. Dotti, Milano 2016, pp. 119-120.